Azara Jaleel

It has always been about the people. The artists, the wondrous workings of their minds in tandem with stimulating & scintillating thought processes that spurred the birth of ARTRA a decade ago in its pursuit of artistic expression. As we enter our decennium, we take great pride in publishing the inaugural edition of our milestone year, Architecture of Anjalendran.

Sri Lanka’s living legend, Chelvadurai Anjalendran is a spirited modernist who draws from Sri Lanka’s rich vernacular traditions in his authentic approach to architecture. Simple and sincere in his applied art, Anjalendran’s refined eye and erudite understanding of the artistic mind distinguishes his buildings to be of cultural integrity, vicarious in character and respectful to the environment. Notably, Anjalendran’s pursuit of architecture began as a student of the legendary icon Geoffrey Bawa; he completed his architectural B.Sc in Sri Lanka (1973), and passed his post-graduate diploma (1976) and a research masters (1979) in Spatial Morphology at University College London. 

Returning to Sri Lanka, he practiced architecture off his mother’s veranda at Gregory’s Road, and was an apprentice to Geoffrey Bawa. Anjalendran received the Golden Award for Global contribution to Architecture, in Delhi in October 2011 and of the many revered literary accounts, features and recognitions Anjalendran received, ‘Anjalendran: Architect of Sri Lanka’ by David Robson is significant in its comprehensive overview of Anjalendran’s works that was published by Tuttle (Singapore) in 2009 and markedly Tailsman (Singapore) in 2015 published ‘The Architectural Heritage of Sri Lanka: Measured Drawings from the Anjalendran Studio’ by David Robson & Dominic Sansoni.

The significance of Anjalendran’s modernist architecture lies in its affinity to simplicity and sincerity present in traditional buildings, religious sites and peasant vernacular, brimming with an authentic and aesthetic appeal that is uniquely Sri Lankan. In reflecting these characteristics that culminate the unique architectural consciousness of Anjalendran, this edition of ARTRA Magazine curates a series of selected architectural drawings and photographs of Anjalendran’s buildings, carefully selected to cover a range of periods and building typologies of consequence including the Piliyandala Youth Village for SOS Childrens’ Villages (1983), Mount Cinnamon,  Estate Bungalow in Mirissa for Miles Young (2002), SAPSRI Office Building in Rajagiriya (2005), Saffron Villa, Boutique Hotel in Hikaduwa (2016), House for a Member of Parliament in Morawaka (2018), House for Kumar and Savithri in Battaramulla (2019) and Wijeratnam Memorial Cancer Hospital in Ragama (2021).

Evidently, Anjalendran’s conscious effort to steer away from building commercial buildings to consciously concentrate on evolving an economical aesthetic of everyday life, is truly laudable. While they do not impose insensitively to its surroundings, they celebrate the oneness of the human spirit towards nature and ethereal beauty. Known for his phrase “I don’t need air conditioning if I have trees!” reflects Anjalendran’s earnest love for celebrating and protecting the environment before the coining of the term ‘sustainability’. He says “It’s so simple to integrate trees. They provide shade and you can construct your buildings around them. Thanks to trees and a good circulation, we in fact really don’t need air conditioning in the houses, especially in countries like Sri Lanka. I am realistic enough to not overestimate the effect of architecture, but I am convinced that good architecture can heal wounds!”

In compiling this edition of ARTRA Magazine’s Architecture of Anjalendran, we conversed extensively with Anjalendran’s family, friends and colleagues who are revered personalities in their own right, of whom one was Radhika Coomaraswamy, Anjalendran’s first cousin. She shared some of her fondest memories of Anjalendran as a young boy passionately pursuing his Bharatanatyam and contributed her valued perspectives on how his performance art influenced his approach to his wholesome personality. 

In our search of the photographs of Anjalendran’s Arangetram, we met with Anjalendran’s close friends and former neighbours, Dharmavasan and Julie who shared many ways in which Anjalendran enriched their life by imparting his knowledge and understanding of art, culture and heritage and now, thanks to Anjalendran, invest in Sri Lankan Modern & Contemporary Art. In our conversation with the revered contemporary artist Jagath Weerasinghe, we explored Anjalendran’s contribution as a cultural conduit and our discussion with Deepal Wickremasinghe, the esteemed engineer who worked closely with Anjalendran on many of his projects shared the novelty of the architect in his vision, use of material and inventive approaches. Finally, we reveled in a wondrous conversation with a former student & architect Rajiv Wanasundera on his invaluable contribution as a mentor and an academic.

A very special thank you to David Robson, who contributed the prolific essay ‘More from Less’, for ARTRA’s Architecture of Anjalendran along with deeply insightful short essays on the selected buildings of the architect featured across the pages. David is truly special to me, and I am intensely grateful for his earnest support through the years.

Thank you to the protagonist of this edition, Anjalendran himself for everything including his frequent fits of dry humour & wit.

I dedicate this edition to my Father & Mother, Habib & Hinaya Jaleel, for their love to a fault.

15th April, 2022 Applied Art | Architecture